What nonprofits can learn from consumer-facing brands

Kirsten Modestow

As we know, nonprofit organizations are mission-driven, and generally working with limited budgets, staffing, and time—putting their money and focus into making change. For these reasons and more, traditionally, branding and design have been pretty low on the list of priorities. The question is, should they be?

Consumer-facing brands work incredibly hard to stand out amongst their competition by building brands that are one-of-a-kind. They focus on being consistent at every consumer touchpoint which builds trust and recognition. And they invest in building loyalty through ongoing, engaging content and careful attention to all of their supporting materials—making sure everything always ties back to their core identity. This logic applies to nonprofits as much as it does to consumer-facing brands.

Nonprofits have the challenge of standing out in a cluttered environment of competitors vying for attention. They have to find a way to build the same kind of customer loyalty as consumer brands, but in a way that doesn’t distract or disconnect from their core mission. Within the space, there are a couple of brands leading the charge in this endeavor, embracing this consumer brand logic, and prioritizing branding to elevate and engage. While the initial investment can be a hit to the bottom line, its impact on the top line is exponential—more eyes, more love, more change.

For example, Planned Parenthood was founded in 1916 on the idea that women should have the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams. Yet, without a consistent brand and visual identity, over the years the organization’s mission got lost in a sea of misinformation, confusion, and distrust among consumers. A recent brand refresh (with Firebelly) brought the organization’s story to life in an empowering, optimistic, and colorful way. Similar to a consumer brand, Planned Parenthood now has a unique style, both visually and verbally. Bold pinks and calming blues, mixed with confident storytelling, consolidate the organization’s unwavering and unapologetic fight for reproductive justice with its expertise as a trustworthy healthcare provider. 

Another testament to the power of rebranding a nonprofit to feel more like a consumer brand, is Bat Conservation International (BCI). BCI is an organization of expert conservationists and scientists — leading the charge to ensure the worldwide survival of bats. Convincing consumers to support a movement to save bats is difficult, because bats are typically portrayed as villainous and dangerous creatures in popular media. In reality, these extraordinary mammals provide vital ecosystem services such as pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal. So, how do you make saving bats look cool, while also stressing the very serious nature of the mission?

Through consistent messaging and standout creative, a recent brand refresh by BRIGADE revealed BCI’s smart, rebellious spirit by speaking confidently and directly — inspiring people to join a movement for profound change. The brand’s refreshed color palette mixes teals and violets with vibrant corals and bold usage of black and grey, giving the brand an optimistic and confident look and feel. The revitalized website brings it all together by integrating educational resources with captivating bat imagery, and videos of fearless conservationists and scientists in the field. 

Across the globe, nonprofits are heroically working behind the scenes to fight battles that aren’t on the radar of the average consumer. However, with the right branding agency, a brand refresh can move a nonprofit into the day-to-day sphere of consumer attention. Today, we’re living in a world that needs nonprofits to succeed and thrive. The heroes behind the scenes, along with the people, animals, and resources they’re trying to protect, deserve consistent and unique brand identities that do their mission justice at every single touchpoint.